EAST NAPLES — To impress a significant other, cooking dinner is one option.
Cooking the books is apparently another.
When Nick Garulay sold a white 2006 BWM Z4 from his East Naples dealership to the woman his accountant introduced as a girlfriend in early 2009, he never suspected that within two years he would file a lawsuit against her, his business would be in jeopardy, and the bookkeeper — whom he considered a best friend and a father figure — would be in jail.
The final item on that list was checked off on Wednesday morning, when Lee County deputies arrested William Cleary, 60, of Fort Myers, on a first degree felony charge for grand theft over $100,000 shortly before noon.
Cleary is accused of embezzling more than $350,000 from Garulay‘s Ambassador Auto Sales on Davis Boulevard in East Naples.
Cleary worked as an accountant at Garulay‘s business for almost two years — from August 2008 to July 2010 — before embezzlement suspicions arose.
“(Cleary) was like a father to me,” said Garulay, 33, who opened the business in 2000. “It was absolutely devastating. I had to lay people off. I couldn’t pay for vendors. We almost had to let the business go.”
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for Cleary’s arrest on Tuesday. An affidavit accuses him of committing a “scheme to defraud over $50,000.”
Documents subpoenaed from Ambassador Auto Sales’s account at Fifth Third Bank and two of Cleary’s accounts at Orion/Iberia Bank and Wachovia indicate that the theft occurred through electronic bank transfers from Sept. 21, 2009 to July 2, 2010, the affidavit described.
Once invited to family dinners, Garulay now calls Cleary “diabolical.”
“(Cleary) completely destroyed my life financially,” Garulay said. “He was getting away with it because he was the one reconciling my bank account everyday.”
Cleary initially diverted $360,000 from the dealership into his private accounts, according to court documents. When confronted by his employer, Clearly paid back part of what he initially siphoned off, but still owed $188,000.
Garulay filed a civil suit in October 2010. In February, he won that sum plus damages, totalling just over $583,000.
“He was at my house every Christmas, every holiday, every Easter,” Garulay said of Cleary. “He was like a father, a best friend to me. My three year old son was just asking about him.”
The worst part, he added, is that his one-time friend never apologized.
“Never once did he say he was sorry,” Garulay said. “He admitted he did it. He did everything he could to protect the girls.”
“The girls” he refers to are Ann Marie Gillum of Tennessee, who purchased the white BMW from Garulay, and Lisa Marie Edwards of Naples. Both are named in the civil suit.
Garulay is suing both for contract indebtedness in Collier County to recuperate part of the money he says Cleary stole from the business and diverted to them. Garulay says Gillum was introduced to him as Cleary’s girlfriend.
Both womens’ spouses were initially listed as codefendants in the pending lawsuits. However, Edwards’s husband was subsequently dropped from the suit.
Attempts to reach Gillum at two numbers listed on the invoice for her car from Ambassador Auto Sales were unsuccessful.
When confronted with the lawsuit last year, Cleary — who represented himself — said only that he was to blame. In court documents, Cleary vacillates between the first and third person in admitting his wrongdoing.
“William Cleary, was indeed solely responsible for the theft, did indeed apologized for my actions and did immediately take steps to repay all that I was able to repay,” Cleary wrote.
“There was absolutely no involvement on the part of anyone inside or outside the surrounds of the company, either friends of mine or otherwise. I and I alone, in part due to my medical condition, was the sole person evolved (sic) in these incidents.”
“After almost sixty years of dedicated service to my employers, I not only failed Nick (Garulay), but also failed myself. I am genuinely ashamed of my actions,” Cleary wrote.
He wrote that he was “contemplating suicide” after he was terminated from the car dealership in July. A friend helped him check into a Veterans Administration mental health facility in Bay Pines, Fla.
After 26 days of treatment, Cleary said he was diagnosed with “Bipolar disorder type 1 – Manic 1; with limited psychosocial supports.”
“It is my intention to do whatever I can to make full remediation during the coming years, while living a very modest personnel life,” he continued.
Cleary is expected to be transferred from the Lee County jail, where he was processed on Wednesday, to Collier County. Spokespersons for both sheriff’s offices were unable to confirm when that would take place.
Staff writer Aisling Swift contributed to this report.